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Communication is a foundational leadership skill that impacts a leader’s ability to effectively apply additional skills such as coaching, conflict management, and delegation. Good development programs put a great deal of emphasis on helping leaders improve these competencies, enabling them to inspire and motivate their teams to make meaningful contributions to the organization’s success.

With so many companies embracing cross-functional and virtual teams, communication is becoming more important than ever for business success. When communication breaks down, the workplace can become dysfunctional, unproductive, and even toxic. Here are a few signs that a leadership team may need to rethink the ways it communicates:

Low Morale

When morale deteriorates in the workplace, the cause can often be traced back to a problem with leadership. Highly-engaged employees can deliver tremendous results, but they need the right environment to thrive. High morale workplaces are built upon trust, respect, and recognition. When leaders do not communicate effectively, they undermine these foundations and cause employees to feel like they’re not valued. Perhaps they’re not given opportunities to grow and develop, or never receive any recognition for doing good work.

In a low morale workplace, it’s important to identify how the behaviors and actions of leadership are causing employees to become disengaged. Seeking feedback from people not only helps to shed light on where things have gone wrong, but also has the added benefit of demonstrating that the organization values their opinion. While this is only a first step to addressing what’s likely a long list of communication failings, it can be a good start to resetting the relationship between leadership and employees.


When communication breaks down, priorities become unclear, work becomes unfocused, and confusion makes it difficult for teams to stay productive. If team members are not able to clearly identify their goals, they can easily become isolated and begin working at cross purposes. They may schedule additional meetings to try to get on the same page, but if no one really understands what they’re trying to accomplish, these meetings will end up being inefficient and ineffective. If they remain consistently under-informed, employees can very quickly become disengaged.

Leaders have a responsibility to communicate the organization’s goals and explain how the team’s efforts can contribute to its mission. Employees tend to be better engaged when they understand why their work matters and see that it aligns with their own values. By adopting new communication strategies that inspire employees, leaders can get their teams back on track.

Lack of Collaboration

By their very nature, teams require members to work together in order to be effective. When this collaboration breaks down, people turn inward, focusing on their own roles and tasks at the expense of group responsibilities. Rather than finding ways to contribute to collective success, they think about how they can promote individual agendas and distance themselves from group failures. People stop listening to the ideas of others and become less accountable to their fellow team members because they don’t see how they depend upon each other for success.

In many cases, high-achieving leaders think it’s their job to take on more work themselves rather than delegating to team members. Unfortunately, this has the effect of leaving employees feeling unappreciated and untrusted. Leaders should instead use communication skills to effectively coach and inspire team members, resolve conflicts, and keep them engaged in contributing to the team’s success.

Loss of Credibility

When leaders fail to communicate effectively, they can come across as insecure and lacking expertise. In some cases, they try to compensate for these shortcomings by exaggerating accomplishments or acting as if they’re more knowledgeable than anyone else. Unfortunately for them, employees often see through these behaviors. When leaders lose their credibility, they will find it hard to influence others give meaningful direction, manage change situations, or delegate tasks effectively.

It can be challenging to build a reputation for credibility under the best of circumstances. Restoring credibility after losing it is much more difficult as employees will be hesitant to extend the benefit of the doubt a second time. Whether through a renewed commitment to honest transparency on the part of a leader or by deciding to make a leadership change, organizations must take whatever steps necessary to ensure that employees can turn to leaders who they trust and respect.

High Turnover

The most obvious indication of communication problems is a high employee turnover rate. In fact, employees often list bad experiences with their manager as their top reason for leaving a position or company. From engaging in excessive office politics and micromanaging to lying to employees and ignoring their concerns, there are many ways that consistently poor communication can cause leaders to drive people away from their jobs.

By identifying the specific communication issues that are causing employees to leave—usually by soliciting feedback from those who still remain—organizations can begin to implement solutions to address problems. Identifying them quickly is vital because ineffective leaders tend to pass their bad habits on to others, which can contaminate a company’s leadership pipeline and create a toxic work environment rather quickly.

Every organization should be on the lookout for signs of communication breakdowns. Seemingly minor concerns can very quickly create larger problems, eventually resulting in costly turnover and greatly diminished productivity. By identifying these issues quickly and taking steps to address them with targeted leadership development strategies, they can ensure that communication remains healthy and keeps employees engaged in the workplace.